Pak US Relations
State of relations with the US
By Javid Husain
NOW that the initial government-encouraged euphoria over the recent offer by Washington to sell F-16 aircraft to Islamabad has subsided to some extent and the heady feeling of being a major non-NATO ally of the US is being replaced by growing concerns over the fast developing US-India strategic partnership as evidenced by the US-India Defence Pact signed at the end of June and the subsequent Indo-US nuclear deal, time has come to take an objective and detached look at Pakistan-US relations.
Historically speaking, Pakistan’s relations with the United States have gone through several phases of close cooperation and estrangement. The current phase of close Pakistan-US relations began with the U-turn in Pakistan’s pro-Taliban policy in the wake of the events of 9/11 leading to the full resumption of the US economic and military assistance to Pakistan and its designation as a non-NATO ally.
Pakistan-US relations have seen many ups and downs, and there is no guarantee that the future course of this relationship is going to be any different despite the reassuring statements made from time to time in both Washington and Islamabad. The strength of this relationship obviously will depend on the convergence of the national interests of the two countries: the greater the convergence, the stronger with this relationship be.
Let us see what the US global and regional interests in South Asia are and the extent to which they converge with Pakistan’s national interests.
The over-arching US strategic objective since the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union is to remain the predominant global power as it is now and to prevent the rise of another power capable of challenging its global supremacy. President Bush couldn’t have said it more unequivocally when he declared at West Point on June 1, 2002, “ America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.”
In other words, the main US strategic objective is to keep this world unipolar as long as possible and to block or at least to slow down the emergence of a multipolar world. US strategic objectives in various regions basically flow from the main goal of establishing the US global hegemony or Pax Americana.
Although it has almost become a cliche to say that the 21st century would be the Asian century, it still is a valid statement. Asia, currently with the second largest economy in the world (Japan), the fast growing economy of China with the estimated GDP of $1.78 trillion, with two of the biggest countries in the world in terms of population (China and India), with the fast growing military muscle of China, Japan, India and South Korea, with most of the world oil and gas reserves, and with the dynamic economies of the Asean and South Korea, is a continent which is destined to play an increasingly important role in international politics in the 21st century.
It is understandable, therefore, that the US would like to be actively involved in the security architecture in Asia. According to a senior US official quoted recently in New Delhi, “The worst outcome for the US is an Asia from which we are excluded... The key challenge for the US over the past 100 years has been to remain engaged everywhere and not allow any other industrial power to dominate a given region. If I were China, I would be working on kicking the US out of Asia. Right now, we have a lot of alliances but there is no architecture embedding us in Asia. This worries us.”
The US views China as posing in due course a challenge to its power and influence in Asia as the latter’s economic and military power grows further. Washington is therefore engaged in building up a security structure aimed at containing China. The US alliances with Japan and South Korea will play this role in the Far East. The developments of the past few years clearly indicate that the US has decided to build up India in the hope that it will ultimately emerge as a counterweight to China on the Asian continent and help in containing China on its southern periphery.
Conversely, India needs the support of the US for building itself up as a major global power and establishing its hegemony in South Asia. The fast growing strategic partnership between the US and India neatly dovetails the strategic objectives of a global hegemon and an aspiring regional hegemon. (In view of the recent Indo-China agreement establishing a strategic partnership between them, it remains to be seen how India will play its cards in dealing with the two contradictory partnerships.). India is also a big market for the US exports and armaments.
The landmark event in the fast developing US-India strategic partnership, in the wake of the announcement from Washington in March this year that the US intended to help India become a “major world power in the 21st century” was the signing in Washington on June 28, 2005, of “the new framework for US-India defence relationship” by the defence ministers of the two countries. This defence pact, which talks about the common belief of the two largest democracies in freedom, democracy and the rule of law, will support, and will be an element of, the broader US-India strategic partnership.
It commits the two countries to cooperation in missile defence, combating terrorism and violent religious extremism, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, technology transfer and defence trade. It also mentions that the US-India defence cooperation in a short span of time had advanced to unprecedented levels unimaginable in 1995. There are already reports of the offer by the US to sell to India F-16 and F-18 aircraft, and the Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile system.
The US-India defence pact was soon followed by a nuclear agreement between the two sides, concluded during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US. This would enable India to acquire nuclear reactors and technology for peaceful purposes in disregard of the restrictions imposed by the US Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act and the guidelines of the nuclear suppliers’ group. Interestingly, the US officials commenting on the Indo-US nuclear deal have indicated that the Bush administration is unlikely to offer a similar deal to Pakistan.
In short, the US is developing its strategic partnership with India in pursuance of its grand design for Asia in which India is expected to play a key role. The concept of a strategic partnership implies an element of equality between the two partners. Consequently, India will expect the US to be sensitive to its ambition of emerging as a great power — something which the US has already conceded in the hope of establishing its hegemony in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
It is also likely, despite the assurances given by the US secretary of state to our foreign minister and by president Bush to our president, that the US in its efforts to build up India as a counterweight to China will ignore the requirements of a strategic balance in South Asia.
In contrast with the US-India strategic partnership, which is based on the convergence of the long-term fundamental interests of the two countries, the current Pakistan-US relationship has a shaky foundation. As far as common beliefs are concerned, Pakistan’s track record in practising democracy is far less appealing than that of India as we still appear to be groping for a democratic system which suits the genius of our people. Pakistan’s all-weather friendship with China has been a pillar of strength and security. It has neither the capacity nor the desire to counter China in any way. Therefore, it cannot help in fulfilling the most fundamental US strategic objective on the Asian continent of containing China.
The US willingness to build up India as a major power runs contrary to Pakistan’s consistent efforts to oppose Indian hegemony in South Asia. The wave of religious extremism, which has fractured and brutalized our society in the aftermath of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation and the subsequent militancy in Afghanistan and Kashmir, remains a source of concern to the US as numerous articles and stories in its media indicate. As for the peaceful settlement of Kashmir, which is the core issue for Pakistan in its relations with India, the US interest does not go beyond mere verbal encouragement to the two sides to try to reach a negotiated settlement of all their differences as the recent pronouncement by President Bush during the visit of the Indian prime minister to Washington indicates. Its real objective is to prevent Pakistan from doing anything which would raise tensions in Pakistan-India relations.
It is true that the US appreciates the important role that Pakistan is playing in the war against terrorism and has rewarded us with economic and military assistance as well as the status of a major non-NATO ally. However, going through the articles and commentaries appearing in the US, one gets the uneasy feeling that Washington regards Pakistan both as a problem and as an important ally in the war against terror.
No wonder there is constant pressure on Pakistan to do more than what it has already done in ridding its society of the scourge of violent religious extremism, in combating which both the US and India are committed to cooperate under the US-India defence pact of June, 2005.
By now it is crystal clear that behind the facade of “dehyphenating” US relations with India and Pakistan as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described it or having “individual relationships” with these two countries as US Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns recently put it, Washington has decided to place its relations with India at a higher plane in terms of priority and importance than those with Pakistan.
The current US-Pakistan relationship, therefore, suffers from serious limitations and uncertainties. First of all, there is no question of an element of equality in an alliance between a superpower and a middle-ranking country like Pakistan. The grant of the non-NATO ally status to Pakistan basically means that it has accepted a subordinate role in the service of the US strategic interests in return for economic and military assistance. Secondly, the convergence of their strategic interests is currently limited to the war on terror in which we are playing a key role in collaboration with the US instead of Pakistan being a part of any grand US strategic design.
This makes the relationship extremely fragile and uncertain, especially keeping in view the internal societal convulsions through which Pakistan is passing and the past US track record. Thirdly, the promised sale of F-16 aircraft and other US military equipment to Pakistan may meet our essential needs for maintaining a credible deterrent. However, looked at more closely from the US point of view, it is meant to keep Pakistan, especially its military establishment, on a tight leash in the service of the US strategic interests in the foreseeable future.
This is the reality that we face behind the smokescreen of empty rhetoric and assurances which are full of sound and fury signifying nothing. It is time to face the realities as they are so as not to be confronted with disappointments and unpleasant surprises down the road. Our objective should be to adopt a new mix of internal and external policies which would safeguard our national interests and provide a more solid and durable foundation for our friendship with the US as we cannot afford to be on less than friendly and cordial terms with it.
It is axiomatic that we must keep our national interests supreme in the management of Pakistan-US relations. Therefore, while there are several factors relevant to Pakistan-US relations which we cannot change, there are others that we can modify to our advantage in strengthening this vital relationship. The promotion of a stable democratic order in Pakistan, based on national consensus, is one such factor which is not only desirable in its own right but would also help in bringing the two countries closer together. The same is true of improving the performance of the economy, raising the standard of human development in the country, particularly through increased attention to education and health, and ridding ourselves of the scourge of obscurantism, retrogression and religious extremism.
In the realm of foreign affairs, we need to broaden our options at the regional and global levels while persisting in our policy of friendship with the US. However, we should not develop our relations with it, marked as it as by serious limitations and uncertainties, at the expense of our friendly relations with neighbours such as China and Iran.
As the saying goes, one can choose one’s friends but not one’s neighbours. A coherent regional policy should be the central element of our over-all foreign policy. In particular, we should avoid a repetition of the strategic blunders of the 1990s when we pursued the pro-Taliban policy in Afghanistan which isolated us regionally and globally besides encouraging religious extremism and klashnikov culture in our society. We are still living with the disastrous consequences of that ill-conceived policy both internally and externally.